By Emily Kerr
THERMAL, Calif. – February 5, 2021 – Featured hunter competition commenced Friday morning at Desert Circuit III with the $5,000 USHJA National Hunter Derby in the Hunter 1 Arena. Split between Open and Junior/Amateur sections, eighty-seven pairs collectively tackled the course, designed by Kevin Holowack (CAN). Claiming the top spot in the Open section, sponsored by Huntridge LLC, was Nick Haness (Temecula, CA) aboard Morrison, while Didi Mackenzie and her own MTM Do Right took home the blue in the Junior/Amateur section, sponsored by Platinum Performance.
Haness and the coming six-year old gelding, owned by West Coast Equine Partners LLC, marked a trifecta with their win in the Open section, earning scores of 92 and 96. The pair have won each of the three USHJA National Derbies so far during Desert Circuit. “I have to say, his brain has to be the best part about him. He’s just amazing and a super star. He’s a three-time derby winner now; he’s done three derbies, he’s won three derbies. He’s only about to turn six years old, so I’m pretty impressed,” shared Haness on Morrison.
“He’s truly becoming a partner with me, which is our main goal. To get us in a partnership together where we really trust each other and he’s coming into that plan beautifully,” Haness noted. “Today was a really competitive field with a lot of seasoned horses, including his older brother Reese’s.” Following closely behind Morrison in the final standings with scores of 88.5 and 94 was West Coast Equine Partner LLC’s Reese’s, piloted by Haness. In third place was Peter Lombardo (Moorpark, CA) and Camelia, owned by Paige Clark, with scores of 90 and 91.
“I think this week’s course was really nice. It involved some longer lines; not a lot of related distances, but a lot of longer, bending lines and galloping. My favorite thing to do. So I thought it was a really fun course,” Haness commented on Holowack’s design. “The Handy round was really challenging. The turns they created for us to do in the Handy round were really tight. I thought the class handled it well, but it was challenging and it made you think about it and pay attention as you made the turn.”
When designing the course for today’s derby, Holowack kept in mind the questions he wanted to ask the riders in the class. “I think what we are looking for is something at this level to be inviting for new riders to get the hang of what a hunter derby is and the process,” shared Holowack. “I wanted to create something that was inviting, allowed for rideability, and allowed riders to have a course that wasn’t as traditional as their typical hunter course.”
In the Junior/Amateur section of the derby, sponsored by Platinum Performance, Didi Mackenzie of Flower Mount, TX rode her own MTM Do Right to earn first place with scores of 89 and 91. She noted similar comments to Haness’ about the fluidity of Holowack’s course. “The courses are beautiful. They are not trying to set the typical course; they are setting nice, flowing courses. The way it was built, you could really tailor it to your horse and take your time or gallop around if you wanted. It was an option of what you wanted,” Mackenzie shared.
Mackenzie and MTM Do Right, or ‘Dude’ as he is affectionately known in the barn, have been paired together for nine years. “I ride him in the A-O’s and usually the International Hunter Derbies. Because there wasn’t one [International Derby] this week, I need all the practice I can get,” shared Mackenzie. “I haven’t shown him since Desert Circuit last year. We are a little rusty so I am kind of doing extra classes to knock the rust off. He is a super sweet horse with just an amazing personality. He is a character. I love him and he is a part of my family.”
Collecting both the reserve and third placings in the Junior/Amateur sections was Avery Rose Glynn (Petaluma, CA) aboard Campina 47 and King of Hearts respectively. Glynn and October Hill Farm’s Campina 47 rode to scores of 86 and 92, while Glynn and her own King of Hearts earned scores of 84 and 90.